WEIRDLAND: Superheroes and Villains

Friday, July 25, 2008

Superheroes and Villains

"Heath Ledger is getting a fond tribute from his collaborators on "The Dark Knight."

The end credits of the "Batman Begins" sequel include a farewell note to Ledger, who died in January from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs; and to special-effects technician Conway Wickliffe, who was killed last September in a stunt-car accident.

"In memory of our friends Heath Ledger & Conway Wickliffe," reads the tribute included in the credits, which went up Thursday on the Warner Bros. publicity Web site.

Ledger plays the villainous Joker in "The Dark Knight," who begins a reign of terror on Gotham City that pits him against conflicted hero Batman (Christian Bale).

The movie reteams Bale with director Christopher Nolan and returning co-stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman. Joining the cast are Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Beginning months before Ledger's death, his frenetic performance and demented-clown makeup have been a cornerstone of the marketing campaign for the film".

"The season began with “Iron Man” back in May, which anticipated “The Dark Knight” in striking many reviewers as a pleasant surprise and hordes of moviegoers as a must-see. The July Fourth weekend belonged to “Hancock,” which played with the superhero archetype by making him a grouchy, slovenly drunk rather than a brilliant scientist, a dashing billionaire or some combination of the two. In that case, the reviews were mixed, but the money flowed in anyway. Even the lackluster “Incredible Hulk,” back in June, managed a reasonably robust opening, as did “Hellboy II,” a somewhat more esoteric comic-book movie.The commercial strength of the superhero genre is hardly news of course. Ever since Tobey Maguire was bitten by a spider back in 2002, this decade has been something of a golden age for large-scale action movies featuring guys in high-tech bodysuits battling garishly costumed, ruthless criminal masterminds. I don’t want to start any fights with devout fans or besotted critics. I’m willing to grant that “The Dark Knight” is as good as a movie of its kind can be. But that may be damning with faint praise. There is no doubt that Batman, a staple of American popular culture for nearly 70 years, provided Mr. Nolan (and his brother and screenwriting partner Jonathan), with a platform for his artistic ambitions. You can’t set out to make a psychological thriller, or even an urban crime melodrama, and expect to command anything like the $185 million budget Mr. Nolan had at his disposal in “The Dark Knight.” And that money, in addition to paying for some dazzling set pieces and action sequences, allowed Mr. Nolan and his team to create a seamless and evocative visual atmosphere, a Gotham nightscape often experienced from the air.

But to paraphrase something the Joker says to Batman, “The Dark Knight” has rules, and they are the conventions that no movie of this kind can escape. The climax must be a fight with the villain, during which the symbiosis of good guy and bad guy, implicit throughout, must be articulated. The end must point forward to a sequel, and an aura of moral consequence must be sustained even as the killings, explosions and chases multiply. The allegorical stakes in a superhero are raised — it’s not just good guys fighting bad guys, but Righteousness against Evil, Order against Chaos — precisely to authorize a more intense level of violence".

"Curious about how he perceived these macabre figures, I asked him to teach me which ones were the heroes and which were the bad guys. Handing him the plastic stack, the six-year-old looked at the first one, paused, and having difficulty deciding, raised his little head and asked, "I don't know. Hero or bad guy?" He repeated this with every guy until we got to good ol' Batman. This time, he confidently informed me, "Batman's a hero, but he's a bad guy too." Those words stuck with me the rest of the day -- We also discussed and were saddened by the "graying" of the superhero from its original black and white parameters as well as its continuing descent from role model to complicated or damaged antihero. Currently, in the world of comics, that image has been embraced thoroughly, with heroes who are beyond corruption practically non-existent -- even Superman killed. And now with The Dark Knight, we get such an incredible, boundary-breaking piece of pulp whose twisted philosophy is so convincing and noir so effective that, en masse, we most likely will see comic books and their relative movie and TV franchises adopt an even darker tone.

So did this knight have to be so dark? In order to create such a magnificent film, yes. But I have to say, I was concerned for all the under-ten kids at the two showings I attended. No, my generation wasn't prone to dropping anvils on people's heads after growing up on Looney Tunes. Still, the bat's out of the bag and it will be interesting to see the cultural ramifications of this new level of dark chic".

No comments :